The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Friday, August 24, 2007

Just as I get to the point where I can, with some persuasion, tolerate the efficient idiocy of broadsheet music writing, the Guardian always seems to find a way of raising the bar to a new low. I present for your aghast anti-entertainment this
truly sad display of towel-flicking, tongue-sticking sarcasm which Mike Love would have been proud to have written.

For a start, note the description “harmless ditties” applied to songs like “The (sic) Wichita Lineman” and “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” two of the most tortured expressions of scarcely alloyed grief and self-hatred to grace the Top 40 (at least in America; “Phoenix” surprisingly didn’t chart at all here) – no doubt as opposed to the Vanilla Fudges or Iron Butterflies whom Queenan presumably considers Real MAN’s Music. The antecedents of loss are already evident through Webb’s previous work, while the sneer that “MacArthur Park” had no sequel displays a level of historical ignorance which perhaps should be expected from the hangers-on, failed TV presenters and Buggin’s turn occupants whom the Guardian prefers to employ as writers – for instance, the entire second Harris/Webb album The Yard Went On Forever acts as a sequel, but also the record inspired a wave of five minute plus epics – “Hey Jude,” “Those Were The Days” and “Eloise” being but the most immediate 1968 beneficiaries – and helped further demolish the notion of the pop single as three minutes of primary coloured toothpaste (though of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with that).

As far as “no one can say for sure what the song is about,” a cursory reading of Webb’s own sleevenote to Harris’ Webb Sessions compilation reveals that it was about a lost love, and by extension a lost innocence which couldn’t ever be recaptured (he doesn’t explicitly say that it was about losing his virginity but has suggested it strongly in other interviews over the years). From there, though, it is easy and understandable that the metaphor could and should be extended to cover the lost utopia of ’67 and the burning angst of ’68; although written before the King and Kennedy assassinations, it can hardly be denied its posthumous effect when it strode semi-imperiously onto the airwaves. To suggest, in triplicate rhetoric, and especially as a joke (because Lord help us if we start taking anything seriously again), that Jimmy Webb, nobody’s idea of a Republican, should have been responsible for Nixon’s re-election is the sort of ninth grade brain candy which properly belongs in the pages of the late, lamented Weekly World News.

Queenan’s assertion that “given the relative sophistication of the genre, being one of the most complicated songs in the history of pop music is like being the zaniest stand-up comic in Estonia” betrays his underlying contempt for pop, mentally still stuck in his 1968 dorm, laughing at Lester’s Count Five album and blasting out Butterfield and Clapton all fucking night. This is only reinforced by his jibe at the Association, a far more complicated group of musicians than is usually and lazily assumed by Queenan and his ilk; Webb wanted to offer them a 20-minute “MacArthur Park” to cover one side of Birthday but the group were doubtful, not so much because of the song but for the same reasons that they had split with Curt Boettcher as arranger and producer; they were suspicious of being manipulated or moulded into somebody else’s vision, however innovative, and wished to preserve their autonomy – and listening to the rather fabulous Birthday album itself, one can’t really say that they were wrong to do so.

And so it wears on – Donna Summer’s “bouncy cover” (just under eighteen minutes in its uncut 12-inch version, nearer to what Webb had originally envisaged, and as stark a curtain pulled down over the disco era as “Good Times”), endless sarcasm, a complete misreading of the Wu-Tang’s usage of the tune as the bloody climax to their brilliantly and intentionally overblown Wu-Tang Forever, and did he mention “Dreamy Days” by Roots Manuva? What a surprise that he doesn’t. Of course I am biased; the song’s emotions radiate with me in ways which the Queenans of their world could never hope to understand (especially as it is about Los Angeles…”there will be another dream for me, someone will bring it”…it’s you and me, L…). All more ammunition in the Guardian’s continuing war against anyone and anything which doesn’t fit into their tidy, spoken-for, media empire arm-friendly demographic. Dated, pathetic and lamentable even by the standards of 1968 music writing; but then I suppose that’s the difference between “real journalists” and writers like me; they write in what they think is the correct way to write, whereas I write me.

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